Saturday, September 12, 2009

Recommended Read: The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally

I'm not big on reading fiction or reading books in general but I love a great photography book and The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally is just that, a great photography book.  Several photography books I've looked at are dry, boring reads.  I may as well pick up the manual to my camera and read it cover to cover because it would be just as entertaining.  However, Joe's book, is quite the opposite. This guy and his editors know how to keep it interesting.  Not only do you learn tons of useful information along with several "ah-ha!" moments, but he shares great stories about his photographic escapades.  I'm not a book critic and don't plan on doing tons of book reviews on our blog but the Joe McNally books are top notch.  I would say as a photographer The Moment it Clicks and The Hot Shoe Diaries are must haves.  Something I really commend Joe on is he even shares some of his photos that didn't turn out right in his books to use as a teaching tools.

Here are a few photos I shot by applying techniques/tips right from the book.

Single flash on camera (bounced)

Single flash on camera (bounced) with rear curtain sync and slow shutter speed to capture motion.  See the light trail of the flame.  This was shot by spinning the book really quick.  Can't forget the disclaimer on this one: I am not responsible for any damaged books should you try to recreate this shot yourself.

A handsom gentleman (me) shot with single flash off camera, goboed, and gelled 1/4 CTO, -2/3 EV on flash.  What the heck am I talking about?  Read the book... trust me, it's good.  For those of you that need to know now, I'll write a quick and dirty explanation at the end of this blog.  By the way, my sincere apologies but when I shot this last night at 2:00am there was no model around to demo photography techniques so you got me.

Here's the setup I used to shoot the above photo. I also used a McNally tip for the picture below. It was shot at 1/8 sec, no flash, handheld.  How is it not a completely blurred mess?  By using what Joe coins as "Da Grip".  You can kind of see me in the mirror holding the camera in a funky position but it works wonders.

I should mention that Joe's book has a lot of information in reference to Nikon and the Nikon proprietary CLS (creative lighting system) because that's what he shoots.  I started with Canon so I'm shooting Canon gear for now but as you can see I am still applying many of the same techniques he uses with his Nikon gear.  It doesn't matter if you shoot Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax, or some other brand.... this stuff will still help you become a better photographer.  The techniques and tips in the book go far beyond what I've demonstrated here so consider this a sneak peek.

Technical mumbo jumbo explained quick and dirty.

Single flash off camera: First off I got the flash off camera by using an off camera shoe cord.  For canon this is the OC-E3 Off Camera Shoe Cord 3.  It allows you to get the flash off camera but still maintains complete communication with the camera so you can use all that fancy stuff known as E-TTL (Canon's light metering system).  The Nikon equivalent is i-TTL.

Goboed:  I have a gobo on each side of the flash.  Gobo is a term coined by film makers that means goes between optics or goes before optics.  In layman's terms it helps to control where your light goes.  Why did I gobo the flash?  So I could concentrate the light on just me and the book and not light up the entire room.  The cabinet beside me is less than a foot away from the flash but you can see the flash didn't light it up.

Gelled 1/4 CTO: Without going into too much detail gels are used to help balance (or match) the color of your flash to the color of the ambient light or for special effects.  If you look in the background of the picture I have a lamp (the ambient light) that, had I not used a 1/4 CTO gel, would have been even more orange/yellowish.  CTO means color temperature orange and they come in different opacity of orange typically 1/4, 1/2, and full.  If you use 1/2 you'll make the light from your flash more orange, and even more so with full. Unless you have an expensive piece of gear known as a color meter this is a judgment call you'll need to make based on how orange/yellow the ambient light is.  The human eye is an amazing tool.  I probably could have used 1/2 CTO for the photo we're discussing which would have made the ambient light in the room less yellow but it's a matter of preference.

-2/3 EV: In short this tells the camera to dial down the power of the flash.  Why did I do this?  Because the camera's light metering system sees this scene as very dark and I'm standing very close to the flash.  To keep the flash from trying to light up the entire room and making me look like I'm a character out of NBC's Heros series I lowered the power on the flash to make the photo more appealing.... well, as appealing as a photo of me can be.

That's all for now...

- Robert Wong

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